The action maestro is back with Silent Night, and his experience emigrating his style over to Hollywood was jarring. But he had some great allies.
Action maestro John Woo is back with a vengeance this holiday season. He has an ambitious, Christmas-themed, mayhem-filled action movie, Silent Night, starring Joel Kinnaman, where there is no dialogue. Woo has been making the rounds in promoting the film, and The New Yorker recently caught up with the Hard Boiled director. While there are many Woo purists who feel there is a disconnect between his Hong Kong classics like A Better Tomorrow and The Killer and his films in the West, the Mission: Impossible 2 director reflects on his emigration to Hollywood and how he adapted to it.
Woo was given the perfect transition with a Jean-Claude Van Damme action vehicle — the 1993 film Hard Target. As Jackie Chan once expressed, it was a jarring change in how Hollywood productions differed from Hong Kong productions, and John Woo definitely shared the shocking experience. Working on Hard Target, Woo stated, “I was so amazed by everyone I worked with. The crew was so professional, but I didn’t realize there were so many rules in Hollywood, like how actors usually have final-script approval. They also sometimes get to have approval over the final edit. I was so shocked. In Hong Kong, I was treated like an auteur. It’s the director who controls editing, not the star, you know? Fortunately, we had very good producers, like Sam Raimi and Jim Jacks. They tried to protect me and fought to get me back all kinds of rights, including final approval over the editing.”
When he moved on to Face/Off, many felt that film was a fully realized Woo film. This was thanks in part to the President of Paramount Pictures, Sherry Lansing, allowing him to have creative control. “Before we started shooting, she gathered everybody, including producers, writers, and key people from the studio, and said, ‘Don’t give him any notes. All I want is a John Woo movie.’ I was so grateful. Everybody was so surprised, too. Usually the director gets a lot of notes from everybody. But, no, Sherry Lansing set me free, so I was able to collaborate with the screenwriters at the end.”